German individuals flock to coal

published on Wednesday, August 17, 2022 at 08:34

German coal producers have been producing at full capacity since the start of the Ukrainian crisis, but are struggling to keep up with demand.

They were only a handful of Berliners to heat themselves with coal, and rarely by choice. But with the looming gas shortage in the wake of the war in Ukraine, many have brought out old coal stoves for the winter.

“Such a rush in summer, everyone who wants coal, we had never seen that,” says Frithjof Engelke, a Berlin supplier of black stones that have become rare commodities in the capital. “The holidays will wait”: you have to take orders, organize deliveries by truck – scheduled until October – and prepare products for those who come directly to buy their fuels in your warehouse.

On a hot August day, he weighs and bags loose coal amid the dust and din of his filling machine, then arranges the bags on pallets, awaiting customers.

In Berlin, 5 to 6,000 homes still heat with coala tiny fraction of the roughly 1.9 million homes, the city says.

They are often elderly people, sometimes entirely dependent on this fuel and living in old dwellings that have never been renovated, or lovers of the heavy heat emanating from old stoves.

But this year, new customers have arrived “en masse”, underlines Frithjof Engelke, whose small company has also diversified into wood pellets or fuel oil. “Those who heat themselves with gas, but who still have a stove at home now all want to have coal”, a phenomenon, according to him, generalized in Germany.

Jean Blum is one of them. That day, this 55-year-old man, hair and white beard in a mess, loads 25 kg bags filled with precious black stones in his trailer. “I am buying coal for the first time in many years”, he said. Since his home is equipped with gas, he sometimes lights his stove, but only with wood.

With the increase in the price of gas, which will be exacerbated from October when the operators will be able to pass on the rise in energy prices to the consumer, he wants to ensure a safety net.

“Even if it’s bad for your health, it’s still better than being cold,” he says. If you have to pay 30% more than before, coal is also cheaper than wood, whose prices have more than doubled. “I’m worried, I wonder if there will be enough gas for everyone”, he also adds, while Vladimir Putin has already partially closed this tap on which Germany is very dependent.

Black fuel is experiencing, willy-nilly, a comeback in the country. The German government has already resolved to make greater use of power stations to guarantee the huge electricity needs of its industry.

Even if he assures not to give up his objective of abandoning this polluting energy in 2030, and excludes “a renaissance of fossil fuels, in particular coal”, as Chancellor Olaf Scholz recently declared.

With the appearance of all these new private clients, production is struggling to keep upand many small coal merchants in the capital have nothing left to sell.

“We produce at full capacity during the summer, with three shifts, seven days a week,” said Thoralf Schirmer, spokesperson for the LEAG company. Located in the Lusatia mining basin, to the east, the site provides coal stones to DIY stores and fuel sellers.

Production has jumped 40% since January, he said, but demand is strong everywhere and the situation should remain tense at least until this winter. Especially since the other factory supplying the market in Germany, based in the Rhine basin, will cease production at the end of the year, reducing supply.

“I dread winter a bit,” admits Frithjof Engelke. Currently, people are relatively relaxed when they learn that they will have to wait at least two months before being delivered, he says. “Things will be drastically different when it starts to get cold outside.”

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